Well, this is a quandary–a pickle, if you will. On one hand, Godzilla vs. Kong is loaded with one-dimensional characters, cheese-puff dialogue, and more sound and fury than any one movie could ever need. On the other, this is a story about a giant ape fighting a radioactive lizard. Is it fair to even bring any expectations into this thing? Keep in mind, the old monster movies had some dude in a costume, rampaging across a miniature cityscape. The actors were badly dubbed, and the plots bordered on incoherence. Those films were rickety, but that was part of their charm.
By that comparison, Godzilla vs. Kong is probably still cinematic junk food, but it’s gourmet junk food. Think Salsa Verde Doritos with some fancy sauce drizzled over them. I mean, the actors here have won awards. The CGI is rendered by artisans on powerful computers. The result is a gorgeously extravagant B-movie: It’s leaps and bounds above the wretched Godzilla: King of the Monsters, which was like a ball-peen hammer to my brain. So, I’m not sure whether I should reward this film for being better-than-expected, or ding it because it’s still pretty average. See what I mean? It’s just–well, it’s a conundrum.
Ordinarily, I would stress that this is the fourth film in Legendary’s Monsterverse, and you need to see the previous installments to get up to speed. But this ain’t exactly like jumping into the middle of Anne of Green Gables. There are monsters, and they stomp and roar. A bunch of character actors stare at computer screens and issue dire proclamations. You’ve seen one, you’ve seen ’em all.
This particular monster mash builds a narrative around each beast in its title: Godzilla rises up from the sea and attacks a top secret research base, while Kong lounges around an artificial recreation of his Skull Island. Something is goading the monsters into a collision course, with humanity’s fate hanging in the balance.
Unsurprisingly, each creature rolls with its own human entourage. Godzilla is backed by Madison (Millie Bobby Brown), his teenage advocate from the previous film. Madison has grown up into a Godzilla aficionado, devouring fringe articles and podcasts related to the monster. She especially follows Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry), a high-strung podcaster who works in the very outpost that Godzilla attacked. Madison links up with her buddy Josh (Julian Dennison), in the hopes of tracking down Bernie and learning the truth about Godzilla.
Meanwhile, Team Kong is headed up by Dr. Ilene Andres (Rebecca Hall), a kind-hearted scientist who seeks to do what’s best for the beast. She works alongside Jia (Kaylee Hottle), a young orphan girl who’s formed a special bond with Kong. They are joined by Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård), a dweeby scientist, and Maia (Eiza González), a corporate hack who couldn’t be more villainous if she was petting a white Cheshire cat.
Yeah, yeah–there are lots of people to not care about. It’s time to stop beating around the bush: This is like a cinematic hockey match: Did you buy a ticket for the story, or do you want to see some monsters slapping each other in the biscuits? If you’re nodding to the latter, then you’re in luck. Kong and Godzilla go the way of Tyson and Holyfield, and it’s pretty damn sweet to watch. The CGI is amazing, and the action is fairly easy to follow. That makes it ten tons better than King of the Monsters, where everything was at night, in the rain, in the distance, and out of focus. Got to hand it to these filmmakers: They do a great job of delivering exactly what you want.
That pretty much resolves our quandary: This is a three-star movie. Godzilla vs. Kong won’t reshape cinema as we know it, but it also won’t make you want to chuck your TV into the Gulf of Mexico, either. If you’re in the mood for junk food, then this should more than satisfy that craving. 113 min. PG-13. HBOMax.